The nerves of two cyclists preferably one male and one female
1 x Huge country with an amazingly varied landscape. Now you might be able to find one in your local delicatessen or ask your friendly local butcher.
As many kilometres of unbelievably bad, crumbling roads that barely scratch the sides of the cliff walls of unbelievably high gorges that are being mined for various materials, causing massive landslides, as-well as intentionally being blown-up by highway construction workers. If you can’t find these in the supermarket then a good quality free-range chicken will do, organic of course.
1 x 1068 Kilometre bike ride that needs to be covered within the looming expiry date of the final of two Chinese visa extensions. Crème fraîche would be just a good.
Preparation tip – In accordance to the belief of some Chinese chefs: if an animal died with adrenaline pumping through it’s veins, in fear, the meat will taste sweeter. So, when preparing the nerves for this delectable noodley delight make sure you stress your cyclists out as much as possible by making them cycle for at least one continuous seventeen hour stint through the night, cycling up a relentlessly steep hill with terrible quality unpaved roads that are often covered in foot deep wet mud or concrete mix. The cherry on the cake, or rock on the head, is to really ensure that plenty of rocks come tumbling down the cliff-faces peppering the road in front of them. This should really get their adrenaline pumping and will benefit the depth of flavour and tenderness of texture of the nerves in the final dish… I’m not really sure where this recipe metaphor is going, I’m lost. If that didn’t make much sense to you, here’s a less creatively composed report of our last two weeks of riding… hopefully useful to any cyclists making their way south of Chengdu…
Chengdu to Kunming
S107 from Chengdu to Xinjin
S103 changing to the S305 to Leshan to see the Grand Buddha… don’t feel obliged to do the tourist stuff, but we thought we should and the big stone figure carved into the cliff is pretty impressive, as were the ten kahillion tourists that seem to be at every tourist attraction in China.
S306 from Leshan to Emeishan checking out the Golden Summit on Mount Emei and a load of monkeys… again, we haven’t been to too many tourist destinations since we’ve been in China, so this was nice to check out. Must have been at least eleven kahilla-quadrillion tourists there. In hindsight we should’ve gone to Emeishan before Leshan… but hey, that’s adventure for you (as adventurous as two extremely established tourist destinations can be).
One of the quadrillion Chinese tourists at the Golden Summit fulfilling his smokey spiritual obligations. The winding Yangtze. The four-side ten-directional golden statue of Puxian on the Golden Summit of the Mount Emei.
S104 from Leshan flowing nicely into the G213 taking us conveniently straight south to Kunming… is what we had planned and expected. Right on que, our first bit of riding in China without a proper map, this was the route that didn’t happen. It was the Root that Petered out. Happily cycling along only to see the road disappear into the depths of the Yangtze. We’re pretty sure, could be wrong, that part of the G213 was flooded earlier this year when the Yangtze rose as a result of the completion of the Three Gorges Dam. To use my surname in the Australian or Kiwi way: the S213 seriously Rooted us and our plans. That’ll teach us for trying to organise ourselves.
Back to the Petering out: as the S213 was swallowed up we found ourselves on the S307 heading for Liangshan. The first stretch of S307 included the ubiquitous dark-as-a-black-hole, ventilation free tunnels. Upon reminding myself that who cares which road we take to where, we cycled merrily along a pleasant stretch of road before hitting some seriously steep switchbacks taking us up from about four hundred metre altitude to over a thousand in only a few kilometres. The first day or two on from our planned route was an introduction to the huge ups and downs of riding in Sichuan Province. We had a massive ride up from a relaxing and balmy camp-spot on the sands alongside the Yangtze, right up into a cold and thick blanket of wet fog, in the dense, lush and green hills above. Although wet, and free from any visibility, the foggy mountain ride was extremely atmospheric, and completely different to any riding we’ve done in China. This was all very nice until we passed a small town called Leibo. The stretch of S307 between Leibo and Zhaojue decays into a dirt track, heavily pounded by a constant flow of trucks carrying rocks, sand and other stuff pulled out of the surrounding cliffs. Having thought it inconvenient to get stopped for half an hour by some kid in military fancy dress as construction workers used tonnes of TNT to blow up sections of the surrounding cliffs to make way for the new highway above, we were delighted to be waved on, only to be stopped 500 metres up the road. More explosives… this time for six bloody hours! When your traveling with no real plan, delays become part of the unexpected, often leading to the best and surprisingly liberating experiences of the adventure. In this case, I really had to use my imagination to convince myself that the seventeen hours of cycling after our six hour pitstop would be fondly looked back on as a highlight. We cycled from 5.50pm into the night. The road to Zhaojue included stretches of road no wider than a truck, with cliff-faces of over a hundred metres on one side and crumbling landslides on the other. Not intentionally aiming to worry either of our Mums, but Mary was actually hit by some falling rocks, luckily by some of the friendlier biscuit crumb sized pieces. *Now I’m sat safely in the comfort of an international youth hostel in Kunming with a few 3.6% beers inside me doing their best (admittedly they need to try quite hard) and some grub on it’s way, this genuinely dicey stretch of road slots neatly into the library of cool adventures somewhere in the dinner party story section of my brain. At 4.30am last Wednesday morning they hadn’t quite made it to the table.
G108 from Liangshan to Yonglangshen getting on to the S214 temporarily before returning to the G108 into Kunming. We wild camped most of the twelve day ride from Chengdu, apart from a couple of nights in Emeishan and a night in Zhaojue. In Zhaojue we were were initially given the, all to familiar, happy wave of refusal (no foreigners allowed) at three hotels before a small group of students used their ID cards to check us into a nice little hotel for the night. Whilst unloading our bikes, one of the students even went to the shop across the road and bought us a load of fruit, noodles and drinks… a very generous welcome! The whole hotel thing can be extremely infuriating. In bigger cities, usually with more tourists, it’s pretty easy to find a cheap hotel. However, in smaller, more remote places we’ve found that more often than not we get refused. I’m pretty sure it’s because officially the hoteliers are legally obliged to register your patronage with the police and therefore have to go to the hassle of contacting the police who then have to come to the hotel to complete your registration blah, blah, blah. Maybe it’s because we usually turn up caked in dirt and unable to speak more than two words of Chinese. Whatever it is, it’s bloody annoying when you’ve decided to splash out the Earth shattering sum of £8 (for a double room), and are mentally already enjoying a hot shower before popping the kettle on and settling down to a few episodes of The Simpsons on the laptop in the comfort of a hotel room only to be told, with an irritatingly friendly wave, to bugger off into the night and find somewhere else to rest your very weary head… and arse.
We picked up our Vietnam visas today, only took 24 hours to process at the Vietnamese Consulate in Kunming. Our package of new bike tyres and inner tubes also arrived today, from sjscycles.co.uk, so we’re just about set to make the final 450 kilometres of our ride through China and into South-East Asia. We are SO looking forward to a bit of beach action… or utter inaction!
OK, I wanted to include this photo on this post, but I decided not to inflict it on anyone. Click HERE if you fancy a peak at just how much hair can stick to a bar of soap when you haven’t washed after a week of cycling in mountains.
Have a look at more photos from our Chinese adventure HERE
*Actually, it’s two days on from when I started to write this post. We’re now sat in the same hostel, in bed, just about recovering from a messy and painful bout of food poisoning caused by the food we had been so looking forward to washing down with our 3.6% beers. Damn that fried Yunnan Province cheese!